Many parents dream of having the flexibility to care for their children while still having the opportunity to earn money to pay the bills. Is this a realistic aspiration? Absolutely. Most work at home parents are looking to supplement the income of a spouse with traditional employment, but some manage to make enough money to be self-sufficient.
However, work at home parents are a frequent target of people who want to take advantage of their desire to be home with their children. You don't have to accept sub-minimum-wage assignments or menial work as long as you are smart about it.
There is a wide variety of jobs you can do as a work at home parent. The most common opportunity is telephone work, ranging from sales to customer service and technical support. Other opportunities include party planning, web site design, online tutoring, and writing. Some opportunities require particular care to avoid getting scammed.
- Envelope Stuffing and Home Assembly: These are the classic work at home scams. There may be legitimate opportunities out there, but I have never come across one. Nor have I come across anyone else who has found one. Stay far away from these.
- Surveys: This is another field that is riddled with scams, but there are a few genuine opportunities there. Some companies do pay, such as goZing, but it takes 6+ weeks to get a check and the earnings are trivial. When I did surveys for goZing, I figured out I was making about 25 cents an hour, which is why I don't do surveys for them anymore. One of the best survey companies to get into is Pinecone Research, but they rarely have open enrollment and the only way to get signed up is to find one of their banner ads on another site. But even places such as Pinecone will net you only $5-$10 month, though that is for a few minutes of work.
- Mystery Shopping: Wouldn't you love to get paid for eating at restaurants? Or buying shoes? And get to keep the stuff you buy for free? That's the promise of mystery shopping. The reality is a bit more complicated. You must write detailed reports, but can't take notes during your visit or even in your car outside. You shop according to assignment, not at your convenience. Like all work at home jobs, this is real work, not just free money. Some legitimate sources of mystery shopping assignments are Mystery Shopping Providers Association and The Secret Shopper Company.
- Medical Transcription: There are many ads that promise big money as a medical transcriptionist, usually if you take their expensive course. The ads are right...up to a point. Transcription is an excellent way to make money from home, but only if you have experience. The only way to get experience is to do the job in an office for at least two years. Taking a course is not a substitute for on-the-job experience, and if you could work in an office for two years, you wouldn't be looking for work-at-home opportunities.
- Writing: The major thing to avoid are MFA (Made For AdSense) jobs. A definition of MFA would be too long to put here; my article In Defense Of Content Writing has a full explanation of the concept. An MFA job is easy to recognize. If you see an ad that asks for hundreds of 500-word articles and is paying less than $5 per article, ignore it and move on. Even a beginning writer should be earning at least a penny a word. Job bidding sites such as Elance and RentACoder have been flooded with MFA jobs to the point it is all but impossible to find decent writing work there anymore. Instead look at writing sites such as Absolute Write, job listings like Deborah Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs, and article repositories such as HowToDoThings.
Always remember the number one rule of working at home: Never ever pay for the privilege of working. If a company charges a fee to work for them, run away.
For more general information there are numerous web sites such as MyMommyBiz and WAHM.com that cater to work at home parents. They offer job listings, business opportunities, and articles of interest to the work at home community. They also have forums that allow you to meet other work at home parents who can provide support and advice. Once again, though, you must be cautious. Even legitimate sites don't have full control over the advertising that appears on their pages, and they have even less control over advice given in their forums.
Working from home is still working from home. Act professionally, work hard, have realistic expectations, and you can have a successful career as a work at home parent.